They don’t make them like they used to.
I grew up in Warner Robins, Georgia and for most of my life it was all I knew. I now know better and every time I return, I realize that all that I’ve learned, I’d naively assumed everyone else had learned, too. Warner Robins has not learned. Cities are still being built like this. What’s most scary is that my home town is not unique, it’s perhaps the norm in American cities.
I wanted to highlight one particular part of town. It’s fairly new, built in the last 4 years or so. It’s also now the nearest cluster of services to my parent’s and brother’s house where I stay when in town.
What kind of experience is this?
Is it one that was designed with people in mind? Efficiency? Equality? Happiness? Habitat?
Yesterday, @zachwill, my Code for America Macon teammate, and I went to the one and only local coffee shop. It is about 2 miles away; we drove. After hacking for a bit it was time for lunch and we wanted pizza. Luckily there was a place across the street. And there lies the problem. The photo above is of our destination and the route to get there.
It was designed for nothing other than an automobile to get the .15 miles from the coffee shop the pizzaria. There are no sidewalks, no crosswalks. The road we had to cross has a speed limit of 45, which people do not obbey - and we know about speeds over 40mph. Zach and I walked there. We felt outrageous and thought someone would stop and ask us if we needed help.
_All subdivisions must use the same two access roads to get to services.
_Access roads are 45mph so crossing as a pedestrian feels unsafe, especially given the width of the roads.
_There are no sidewalks, no crosswalks - making walking still less feasible an option.
_Access roads and parking lots are between shops and shops and the main road. Making a greater than necessary distance between shops.
_If you chose to still walk between shops the black asphalt contributes the already oppressive heat in the South.
If blocks were broken into smaller blocks, speed limits on access roads were dropped, shops were pushed to the street (incredibly, you can see below that you can actually fit the shops themselves in their setback from the street) and parking pushed behind (let’s not even try to tackle reducing parking just yet).
Imagine parking once and being able to walk from the movies to the pizzeria or coffee shop to the grocery store and bank.
The illustration above imagines you are at home and want to get to dinner at a lovely establishment in your nearby. How does the street layout affect your (yellow) paths to dinner?
A street system is the pattern in which a city’s streets are laid out. This pattern can have a big effect on how it feels to move around in a city.
Two types are discuessed here: grid system, in which streets are laid out in regular (grid) pattern (excetpions here and there allowed); and an artery system, often found in suburbs, in which many roads branch off of one main road.
Grid systems work well in cities for many reasons.
_They allow for multiple routes to a destination. This means if one route is blocked you still have many ways to get where you’re going. In an artery system if something happens on the main “artery” road, everyone is stopped, without a plan B, C or D.
_ Because the pattern is regular it also predictible. This makes navigating the city easier. If something is 6 blocks away, you’ll have a sense of that distance.
_The many intersections created by a grid system means that cars will be stopping more often and driving slower in between stops. This keeps speed in central cities lower, making it a safer place for pedestrians and cyclists.
_Gridded streets create blocks which give a rhythm to a journey. If done at the right scale, this rhythm can make a trip feel shorter than it actually is, which in turn promotes trips on foot or bike. Trips on foot and bike promote health!
_Because the grid gives everyone multiple ways to get where they are going, traffic is more efficiently dispersed amongst many streets. In a suburban artery system everyone has to take the same main road no matter where they are going so traffic can really back up.
The closer a car’s speed is to your walking speed, the less likely you are to die when one meets the other.
In fact, your odds of dying shrink from 85% to just 5% when a car slows from 40 mph to 20 mph. This is why the 20mph Zone inside cities movement is growing.
Scaling for All
Streets are safer when they’re treated as a right for all modes of transit, not just auto traffic. Many European cities have implemented laws to create these environments called Home Zone, Living Streets, Shared Space and Woonerf.
Drivers drive faster on wider and multi-lane roads, regardless of speed limit. The predicability of the open road often leads to passive driving. In some cities, signs are removed, lanes are narrowed or even curved to force drivers to slow down and be more aware of their environment.
In urban areas with a dense street network, drivers often must drive slower because of the narrower lanes, inherit unpredictability of active streets and short block lengths.
The relative size or extent of something. In this case, the city and its size or extent as it relates to the common.
In the old sense meaning public and the benefit and interest of said public.
An important sounding word for what the hell I plan on doing.
I believe there are patterns in human behavior and I believe it’s not so surprising that we react predictably to our environment and that it effects us so wholly. Incredibly, as humans, we have immense control over our environment. For the most part, it’s designed and built by us - we even choose on which parts not to build and design parts to look un-built upon.
I believe things could be better. I believe better isn’t something complicated.
This space on the interwebs will store my thoughts on urban form. My aim is to break down elements of urban form into @substackian [small] and clear pieces and create a catalogue of best practices, inherently based on human scale and behavior.
I reserve the right to edit any and all ideas at any point and I intend on using proper capitalization throughout.